In summary, definitions of the terms rural and/or rurality and delineation of rural from urban areas have been long debated topics in many academic works. Rural space comes into existence in certain areas, typified by a series of factors such as land use (especially for agriculture), population density, agricultural employment, and built areas. Generally, rural areas are considered to be synonymous with more extensive land use activities in agriculture and forestry, low population density, small settlements, and an agrarian way of life. Rural space is divided into territorial entities, with variable scales, covering the local or regional economy, and each unit includes both agricultural and non-agricultural activities. Different countries have varying definitions of rural for statistical and administrative purposes. Although urbanization is a global phenomenon, today about 45.5 percent of the world’s population still lives in rural areas.8
There are many types of rural settlements. Early villages had to be near a reliable water supply, be defensible, and have sufficient land nearby for cultivation, to name but a few concerns. They also had to adapt to local physical and environmental conditions, conditions that can be identified with a practiced eye. Villages in the Netherlands are linear, crowded on the dikes surrounding land reclaimed from the sea. Circular villages in parts of Africa indicate a need for a safe haven for livestock at night. A careful examination of the rural settlement of a region reveals much about its culture, history and traditions.
Most people can agree that cities are places where large numbers of people live and work, and are hubs of government, commerce, and transportation. But how best to define the geographical limits of a city is a matter of some debate. So far, no standardized international criteria exist for determining the boundaries of a city. Often, different boundary definitions are available for any given city. The “city proper,” for example, describes a city according to an administrative boundary, while “urban agglomeration,” considers the extent of the built-up area, to delineate the city’s boundaries. A third concept of the city, the “metropolitan area,” defines its boundaries according to the degree of economic and social interconnectedness of nearby areas.
The United Nations, the most comprehensive source of statistics regarding urbanization, emphasizes the fact that more than one half of the world population now lives in urban areas (54.5 percent in 2016)9, and virtually all countries of the world are becoming increasingly urbanized. Yet, given the fact that different countries use different definitions, it is difficult to know exactly how urbanized the world has become. Canada and Australia consider urban any settlements of 1,000 inhabitants or more, for example, while a settlement of 2,000 is a significant urban center in Peru. Other countries consider other limits for urban settlements such as 5,000 inhabitants in Romania and 50,000 in Japan. Consequently, in 2016, the percentage of urban population by continent was as follows: North America, 81 percent, the most urbanized continent in the world; Latin America, 80 percent; Europe, 74 percent; Oceania, 70 percent; Asia, 48 percent; and Africa, 41 percent.10